A place in history: the Mackay School

A look back at some remarkable images from the Mackay School's past.

Posing for a photo with the John Mackay statue, Betty Bowman and Jean Horning were the first two women to graduate from the Mackay School of Mines in 1937. The next female to graduate from the School was Margery McKnight Carr in 1951.

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1/9/2019 | By: Karl Fendelander |

Born the School of Mines in Nevada in 1888, the Mackay School of Mines is more than just an iconic building sitting opposite Morrill Hall on the University of Nevada, Reno's historic Quadrangle. It was one of a handful of mining schools that opened around then at Land Grant Universities to teach those untrained Gold Rushers the science of extracting precious metals - and John William Mackay, one of those eager early miners armed with little more than ambition and a strong back, would come to change not only this mining school but the entire University.

Mackay spent time in the California Gold Rush mining camps before arriving to mine the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, where he went from penniless Irish immigrant to multi-millionaire and one of four Bonanza Kings known the world over in a few short decades. While his fellow Kings cut and ran with their riches to big cities, Mackay's deep sense of gratitude to Nevada tethered him and his family.

Mackay's son Clarence, acting on his father's wishes, supported the then struggling Nevada State University for thirty years. Support included a complete redesign of campus, a new science hall, salaries for faculty and staff, athletic training facilities, the first Mackay Stadium and, of course, the Mackay School of Mines building and accompanying statue of a young Mackay and his pickaxe. Ten thousand people gathered for its dedication in 1908. "I want the School of Mines to stand for all that is high and best in the minds of future mining engineers," said Clarence at the ceremony.

Donations fueled new interest in mining education and related fields. By 1963, the building housed the University's seismological program and mining library, as well as the chemical engineering, mining engineering, geochemistry, geology, geophysics, geography, hydrology, hydrogeology and Earth science departments.

A lot has changed in the intervening years, but the Mackay School, its influence and its rich history continue to grow beyond its walls. Take a figurative stroll through some of that history in these photographs - and a literal one through the building itself next time you find yourself on the Quad.

Old photograph of Mackay Assay Lab

Professor Walter Palmer and students at work tables in the Mackay School of Mines Assay Lab, circa 1908. The Mackay School of Mines building with its tall ceilings was later remodeled to fit the building’s second story which houses the DeLamare Library and the mezzanine level of the W.M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum.


two old photos of geology classes

(Left) As part of a geology field trip, a class of Mackay students visited Steamboat Springs, a small volcanic field south of Reno, circa 1905.

In 1983 with former NASA employee James Taranik as dean, the Mackay School was chosen by NASA as one of 6 universities to first use remote sensing and spectral analysis utilized in America’s space shuttle program. The image to the right shows students in the NASA program setting up equipment near Pyramid Lake circa 1985.


Mackay Unveiling

This scene shows the Mackay Statue unveiling during the dedication ceremony for the Mackay School of Mines on June 10, 1908.

Clarence Mackay, a great benefactor during the beginning years of the university, had the statue made in honor of his father, John Mackay. The statue was created by up-and-coming sculpture at the time, Gutzon Borglum, best known for Mt. Rushmore. The statue was situated so that Mackay’s face is looking toward Virginia City where he made his fortune in the Comstock Mine.


two old photos of Seismo Lab

The Nevada Seismological Lab, established in 1910, is the oldest University lab. It tracked earthquakes like the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that occurred in 1915 near Pleasant Valley. The photo to the left shows the cracks that developed after the quake.

In 1962, the University established a permanent seismic network in western Nevada and the Seismological Laboratory recorded and processed the data. The photo to the right shows Professor Walter F. Nicks pointing at recordings made by the lab’s seismometer in 1979. Between 1962 and 1979, the year this photo was taken, the lab had recorded 7,691 earthquakes with the largest measuring at a magnitude 5.3 in the Black Rock Desert.


POstcard of Riverside Hotel and photo of blueprints

building, Frederick J. DeLongchamps, was one of Nevada’s most prolific architects. In addition to designing many University buildings, DeLongchamps designed the Nevada State Capital, the Washoe County Courthouse, the Riverside Hotel, The Washoe County Library, the Reno Post Office and many more iconic buildings. Above is an old Reno postcard featuring two of DeLongchamps buildings. Below you can see the stamp on DeLongchamps’s plans for the Mackay School of Mines building.


Two photos of UNR miniers

As is still the case today, much of the Mackay education happens outside of the classroom. To the left, three students stand together in front of the entrance to a mining tunnel during a field trip in 1949. “Mackay Tunnel” is written on the photograph above the tunnel. In the photo to the right, four students walk out of the Commonwealth Mine (also known as the Union Mine), in the Galena mining district in Washoe County, 1975. The mine was founded 1867, with the discovery of lead-silver ore. It was used as a teaching facility for the Mackay School of Mines in the 1970s-1980s.


Old and new Mining Games photos

Shown above is a student demonstrating hand steeling at the 1929 Engineers Day. In 1978, Mackay students were able to put these old mining techniques to the test with the establishment of the International Mining Games. The Mackay School of Mines formed the Mackay Muckers team and they took home their first gold medal in the hand steeling event in 1983. The Muckers are still going strong! In Spring of 2018, the Mackay Muckers took home second place (pictured to the right)!


Crucible Club

Members of the Crucible Club on a geology field trip to Virginia City with Geology Professor Vincent Gianella October 5, 1935. The one young woman in the photograph is student Betty Bowman, one of the first two women to graduate from the Mackay School in 1937.

Started in 1902, The Crucible Club was an association of mining and engineering students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The club was dissolved at an unknown date, but the Mackay School has grown its student and local chapters of professional societies since then to include the Mackay Rockhounds Club, the John Mackay Club, the Mackay Muckers and the Geography Club.

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